The energy, dedication and ability of the six national voluntary sector infrastructure improvement hubs have produced impressive achievements and a recent "explosion of activity", according to the report produced for Capacitybuilders by independent consultant Jo Durning.
Leaders of the hubs have also recognised the need for greater collaboration and joined-up working, which were not provided for in their original Home Office contracts, said Durning, a former senior civil servant in the Department of Trade and Industry.
But she concluded that improving the existing system would not remove "the underlying tensions between the remits of the hubs". She described these as "the combination of responsibility for commissioning and delivery, where the organisation responsible for spending public money is in a position to decide whether its own programmes are better than those of the competition".
Durning expressed scepticism about reconfiguring the hubs to reduce overlap between three of them.
"It must be uncertain, given that the governance, workforce and part of the performance teams are currently located in the NCVO and line-managed by one director, that merger would bring the desired synergies," she wrote. "It could a create a bigger and more unwieldy partnership."
She dismissed the idea of a new performance improvement agency, suggested by Acevo. But transferring the commissioning role to Capacitybuilders would allow for a stronger central direction of infrastructure-building programmes and see the hubs becoming advisory rather than delivery bodies.
This was opposed by most of the hubs, she noted.
But she concluded: "It will be harder to drive delivery of the national ChangeUp programme through five or six independent partnerships with wide-ranging remits - and the tensions identified in this report - than through direct commissioning by a central body that can take a strategic overview.
"On balance, it seems that it would be better to refocus the role of the hubs in order to get the structure right now, than to try to continue to deliver through the present structure in order to minimise disruption early in the life of the programme."
- See Editorial, page 13
The national hubs: Sector partnerships using £16m of public money to improve infrastructure for workforce, governance, performance, ICT, finance and volunteering
ChangeUp: £72m Government initiative, including the hubs, to develop voluntary sector infrastructure
Capacitybuilders: Set up recently to manage ChangeUp and develop initiatives with £70m over two years
Capacitybuilders should refocus the direction of the ChangeUp programme so it aims to do less better, with a stronger focus on users, more integration between the different strands of the programme at national and with other levels, and a stronger emphasis on celebrating good practice within the sector as well as drawing from outside so the programme has a continuing edge. It should:
- Put more emphasis on leadership of change and give a higher profile and stronger direction to the Leadership Centre, through a more direct relationship
- Draw up a road map for sustainable delivery of the ChangeUp vision
- Draw up guidelines on the role of the national programme in delivery to the front line, in relating to voluntary and community organisations and on charging
- Draw up frameworks for ChangeUp accounting to improve accountability and help drive value for money; and for commissioning, drawing on best practice developed by the hubs
- Take responsibility for national programmes
- Invite the Finance, Governance, ICT, Performance and Workforce partnerships to continue as centres of excellence and advisory bodies, with small budgets to enable them to identify and promote good practice
- Wind up the Volunteering Hub and ask Volunteering England to deliver a UK volunteering programme
- Ensure its own team is strong enough to deliver on the recommendations.